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Nurse inspires patients through song

Sandra Mattingly, RN, has been given a second chance to put her nursing skills to use. This time around, she is bringing an additional skill to the bedside: song.

"We have all of the clinical skills and the modern technology. Nurses need to see eye to eye with their patients and relate the heart, not just the procedure," says Mattingly. "That's what's missing in nursing today."

Known as the "singing nurse" at Prattville Baptist Hospital in Prattville, AL and Baptist Medical Center South Hospital in Montgomery, AL, Mattingly's vocals are lifting the spirits of her patients who are battling cancer, offering them hope and encouragement during a time they need it the most.

Mattingly says the road to singing for her patients began after she suffered a serious car accident that prevented her from working for four years.

"I said I'd never work again," says Mattingly of the accident that left her with a broken neck, a crushed foot, and resulted in multiple surgeries. "But I missed taking care of patients and one day I said 'Lord, please just let me do it one more time.'"

Mattingly says the next day a nursing refresher course was advertised in the newspaper at Baptist Medical Center South Hospital, so she enrolled, passed, and was later placed in the oncology unit. There, physicians created a shoe for her, which enabled her to carry on with her nursing duties. It was during her first week that she says a physician's grandmother was being discharged home to receive hospice care.

"I could see the fear in her eyes and I asked, 'Do you know an old, old, song called "Farther Along"?' And her eyes brightened and she asked me, 'Would you sing it to me?'" Mattingly says she sang four verses, which lifted the woman's spirits before she was discharged for home.

"At first I was kind of leery because I just got the job and I didn't want to get fired for singing," says Mattingly. But two weeks later the physician asked her if she would sing the same song at his grandmother's funeral.

"I said, 'I don't have the greatest voice and I don't have any music.' He told me it wasn't about me, but about what I did for her. So I did it."

Seven years later, Mattingly continues to sing for her patients.

"It's very comforting for [the patients] and you can tell it really brightens their day," says Meg Spires, RN, who has been working with Mattingly for a year at Prattville Baptist. "And patients frequently ask for her as the 'singing nurse.'"

Mattingly says she often sings her original song entitled "Just one day," which she created during her first month back at Baptist Medical Center. She was having physical trouble getting her stamina back, had worked six days straight, and was overtired. She needed to work one more day to have an entire week off from work. "I told myself 'Just make it one more day' and got in the car." She says as she was driving to work, the song just came to her.

"The whole message of the song is that this day—that you are living right now—is very, very important," Mattingly says.

After making it through that day and that difficult period of her life, Mattingly is grateful to have the chance to instill that same message in her patients.

"I'll sing it up and down the halls and sometimes I'll make up lyrics when someone is down and they perk up."

Patients sometimes harmonize with Mattingly or their entire family will join hands and sing.

"It helps these patients when they are sick and devastated and they end up reaching out to other patients and uplifting them," Mattingly says.